Hey there, sorry we haven’t spoken in a while. Between work, training, and social occasions, life has been pretty full on and it’s left me pretty exhausted. You know when you’re about to go out for a run but your whole body is tired before you’ve even started, so you know you’re in for a hard time? Yeah, there’s been a lot of that lately. When you’re 21 you seem to have this innate attitude that you’re indestructible, and can survive on sleepless nights and indulgent eating. But lately I’ve learned when you have these things in excess, even well-working engines can burn out. Consequently it has become a priority to nourish my body with rest and all the amenities to enhance my recovery so I can run to the best of my ability every day. So for this week’s instalment I’ll be putting on my physiotherapy student hat and divulging in some of my tried and true methods to boost your recovery when training leaves you shattered or your body just needs a bit of a pick me up.
(Well not without some of these techniques anyways!)
Nah, I’m sorry. But my mum never lets me forget that this is the reason I can bounce back so quickly after big events.
Of course it’s a given, but sometimes we enthusiastic sporting types need to be told to take a break. We can become so fixated on performing hours upon hours of training to become the fittest version of ourselves that we forget by doing less sometimes we can give the body a chance to replenish and therefore function better in a non-exhausted state. So if you’re hurting just tying your shoelaces, contemplate what Jesus would do – trade your water for wine and put your feet up because making yourself more sore probably isn’t worth that extra run. Wine may also help to soothe (or more likely forget) any aches you currently have. Plus did I mention carbo-loading? So many advantages.
Especially in this humid weather. For your longer runs DEFINITELY carry fluids with you, ideally electrolytes or sports drinks. As your muscle glycogen levels deplete, the muscles break down their own proteins for energy which leaves you sore and less enduring. Sports drinks and electrolytes can top up your energy levels through the provision of glucose, and thus helps reduce muscle wasting. Electrolytes also allow your body to hold onto fluid better than plain water, meaning your blood volume doesn’t drop as quickly. This allows your body to work more efficiently to maintain your temperature, power your muscles and presto, better your performance. It’s also important to keep a water bottle with you after your session to replace the fluids you have lost through metabolism and sweating. Fail to do this and you may be plagued by headaches, fatigue and soreness that can knock you around for days. There are all sorts of guidelines of how much a runner should drink to replace what s/he loses over a given running duration, but this all really depends on their work level, sweat rate, weight, the temperature and humidity. The best formula can be found by practicing your hydration plan to find a balance between what allows you to feel energised without needing a pit stop every 5 minutes.
Now I am no nutritionist, nor do I believe everyone responds to food in the same way, but I do know that a decent meal after training is important for recovery and maintaining energy levels. Opting for foods that have a decent amount of carbohydrates and protein to replace depleted glycogen stores, aid muscle building and prevent muscle degradation are ideal. I often go for sandwiches, smoothies, or cereal with yoghurt and fruit, as they have ample amounts of protein and slow-burning carbs. Plus I love breakfast foods and will take any excuse to eat them at every opportunity.
Many people will try to convince you that you can’t go without
5. Cold water recovery/Ice baths.
“Cold therapy” (or if you’re really technical, “cryotherapy”) is beneficial immediately after running as it flushes metabolic waste products in your limbs left over from exercise. The extreme coldness constricts blood vessels and slows metabolic activity so when your body is removed from the extreme temperature and your tissues begin to warm up, blood flow quickly returns which flushes out the by-products of metabolism (lactic acid, carbon dioxide, etc.) to the lymphatic system to be excreted. I often jump in a cold river or ocean when I’ve finished a long session, but those who are hardier and have more time can draw themselves an ice bath, and submerge for 10-15 minutes. Maybe the fact your legs are freezing helps you to forget any pain you have, but this method is terrific for forgetting any kind of soreness you might feel in the legs.
6. Compression garments.
I’ve mentioned the confidence I have in CEP compression gear in a previous blog, and is a recovery method I’ve been using for years. It is claimed that compression apparel improves blood flow to the compressed area, carrying oxygen and nutrients to accelerate tissue recovery. Despite these claims, there have been no scientific studies to prove any physiological advantages of compression garments over standard elastic tights. However, there was a recent New Zealand study comparing the effect of compression tights and placebo tights on recovery rate and performance in rugby players. The 3km time trial performed after wearing the compression gear was slightly faster than after recovery in the placebo tights, although this was not a statistically significant difference. One critique of the study is that the compression garments flashed large SKINS logos all over them, whereas the placebo tights were plain black, which may have provided subjects with a psychological boost to their performance. But if that’s what it takes to cut a few minutes off a PB then brand me up. Unless the branded garments are 5 times the price of the plain ones. Student budget, you know.
I could write a series of blogs on the benefits of massage but to cut the story short, massage after a run can reduce soreness and stiffness, relax muscles, flush out metabolic waste products and reduce inflammation if you have sustained any mild muscle damage. If you aren’t able to splash out for professional masseuse, you can perform your own self massage with a sports wax or anti-flamme, or even use a foam roller for some harder pressure. Foam rollers are also good for warming up and stretching out muscles before a run, or even just when your muscles are feeling tight or heavy. Just ask anyone who’s used a foam roller, ever.
8. Active recovery.
If you’re itching to get the body moving and still feel you have the energy for it, a session of low-intensity exercise may be for you. The idea is that by increasing blood flow, lactic acid and other waste products are removed more quickly, lessening the feeling of muscle soreness. And there have been studies to prove this effect is true as blood lactate concentrations are lower following active recovery than passive recovery (i.e. complete rest from exercise). There is also a psychological advantage to active recovery as partaking in a novel, laidback activity can also break up the monotony of only running and boost your mood. Some ideas can include walking, submaximal cycling, yoga, swimming, low-intensity resistance training, trampolining, twerking…. Whatever tickles your fancy.
So this week I’m going to set a challenge to all of you training hard this summer: try out a recovery technique you haven’t used before, after your next long session. And if you already use all of these methods, kudos to you for being so dedicated. Happy running!